The president of the Board of Deputies has defended his decision to congratulate Donald Trump on his election, following severe criticism by young Jews from across the community.
Jonathan Arkush was condemned for commenting on the the victory of Donald Trump on Wednesday. In a statement, he hoped president-elect, would “build bridges and ensure that America’s standing as a beacon of progress, tolerance and free-thinking remains strong.”
Almost 200 young members of the community, including several Deputies, Jewish student society presidents, and members of the Jewish Labour Movement, sent the Board a co-signed letter, which called the statement “laughable”.
In response, Arkush wrote to the initiator of the letter, saying: “I doubt that there is much disagreement on the substantive concerns about some of Mr Trump’s divisive rhetoric during the campaign.” He added, “I suspect, therefore, that our only disagreement lies in whether it was right for the Board of Deputies to issue this statement.”
Arkush continued: “In contrast to many such statements which were exclusively congratulatory, we linked it to our explicit concerns that I have consistently voiced over the past months.”
“We understand why people feel strongly about this and particularly after what, for many, will have been a disappointing night.”
“We have been clear throughout the election regarding our concerns about some of Donald Trump’s comments. Those concerns remain, particularly over those comments which are considered to be racist and sexist. Consequently, our statement spoke in clear terms of a divisive campaign and ensuring that America remains a beacon of progress, tolerance and free-thinking.”
Jonathan Arkush responded to an angry letter written by young Jews, which said it was “beneath contempt” to congratulate Donald Trump. Citing the American president-elect’s controversial campaign, the letter said he was “a candidate who was censured by the Anti-Defamation League for using anti-Semitic tropes, who has enabled mainstream anti-Semitic abuse and who has secured the endorsement of the KKK and other white supremacists.”
The signatories to letter, including several Deputies and Jewish student society presidents, added: “This message of congratulations is contrary to our community’s best interests and is an affront to our ancestors and contemporaries who have stood against racism and fascism in all its forms.”
Ella Rose, a former Jewish student leader and Deputy for Bushey United Synagogue, tweeted: “No words for how badly this statement is judged. I’m embarrassed to be a Deputy.”
Jay Stoll, an executive board member of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “The Board has misjudged the anxieties that many have over the election of a racist demagogue to the highest office in the world.
The Board later responded, saying it “understood” the concerns, adding that it had spoken out about Trump’s racist and sexist comments previously.
Elsewhere, Wes Streeting MP, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group of British Jews, said the result was “frightening for those of us who care about Palestinian human rights and statehood and fear for Israel’s founding principles”.
Several Jewish religious leaders echoed the concerns. Senior Masorti Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg said it was “an American tragedy and a tragedy for the whole world,” adding: “The world is reverting to tribalism. We mustn’t travel with it.”
Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said Trump “calculated a path to victory dependent on amplifying and people’s fear of one another”. Invoking American rabbis who “prayed with their feet” during the Civil Rights marches, she added: “Now it’s our turn to pray.”